Founded in 2001, American Laser Centers (ALC) has quickly grown to become the nation's largest and most experienced provider of aesthetic services with more than 220 clinic locations in 35 states. Given the highly interactive services the company provides such as laser hair removal, cellulite reduction, and skin rejuvenation treatments, comprehensive training and formal processes for clinic staff is imperative.
Training at the speed of growth
Training at ALC evolved in reaction to the company's rapid growth. In the beginning, successful clinic managers were given training responsibility as a reward for performance in the field. This process was expensive since it was conducted at the company's Michigan headquarters and travel was required 90 percent of the time. Additionally, given that the training was not "scalable," it was impossible to keep up with the company's rapid growth. Technician training also posed a unique set of challenges due to the nature of the work—it is very hands-on and uses an array of sophisticated new technologies where few people with significant experience exist.
Getting ready for change
ALC leadership knew a status quo approach to training would not carry the company into the future. In June 2008, ALC hired me to create and implement a formalized training strategy.
Time was of the essence. The company was opening 40 to 50 new clinics a year, industry technology was changing with new laser equipment coming to market every six months, and new services were being added to the company's offerings. A large pool of experienced potential hires did not exist, and turnover was a nagging problem.
ALC did have an advantage, however. As a smaller organization with little bureaucracy, decisions could be made with lightning speed. The keys to the new process included:
- Shifting focus from training to learning.
- Making learning an integral part of the work.
- Creating goal alignment.
- Leveraging existing technology.
- Generating efficiency.
- Ensuring scalability.
Training vs. Learning
In the ALC culture, there was a solid understanding of what "training" meant, but few really understood how "learning" fit into the equation.
Early communication efforts helped to get everyone on the same page and talking in the same language about what these things meant and how they would influence the learning and performance strategy that was being created.
ALC then brought together people from all levels of the organization to develop learning content, a key part of my learning strategy—involve people from all levels of the organization. The company also surveyed employees on various topics and found the more employees knew their ideas counted, the more they wanted to be involved. The process also revealed the strategy would need to allow employees to learn at their own pace, when convenient for them.
Leveraging and optimizing existing technology
Luckily, ALC delivers almost all of its internal communications and information via a learning management system (LMS) (software as a service) intranet. Most of the required infrastructure was in place although much of it needed to be optimized with more up to date information. In addition, every clinic had at least one office computer and each treatment room had a notebook with broadband connections. Because of this, it was relatively easy to phase in new programs and improve existing systems.
Without having in place the proper technology such as an LMS (which wasn't available until 2008), computers with high-speed Internet connections at workstations, and a computer literate workforce, it would be much more difficult to communicate, manage, and execute on the learning and performance strategy.
The launch of ALC University and "The Blend"
As with all learning, the goal should be to make it challenging yet fun. When learners participate in instructor-led training (including virtual, classroom instruction), the instructor's delivery "engages" the learners. In e-learning, the interface and interactions "engage" the learner and replace the job of the instructor. And, with performance support, learners are already engaged because they have an immediate need to find and apply information to help them complete a task. It's important to keep the sources of engagement in mind when designing a blended approach.
ALC evolved their training program delivery from almost purely instructor-led to one that blends online learning, virtual classroom training, structured on-the-job training, performance support, and a Wiki. It's important to note that previous to these changes the culture was stuck—or frozen—into the instructor-led model they had come so accustomed to expecting. Before this change, there was a perception in the field that the instructor-led training—along with some unstructured job shadowing—was sufficient.
In February, ALC officially launched ALC University as an integrated, online learning and performance management system for the training of current and new technicians, clinic managers, and corporate staff.
How the training process works today
A new hire starts on a Monday and is required to participate in three 60 minute Webinars spaced an hour apart throughout the day:
1. HR Webinar orientation
2. Welcome and introduction to the learning system
3. Medical services: History of lasers and other fundamentals
Remaining topics are part of learning plans assigned and managed via the LMS. These are completed within the next 30 days. We also linked performance reviews to development plans to address the ongoing learning needs of established employees. And we always follow up e-learning with some form of hands-on to ensure we do not lose the social value of the human touch. After all, we are an organization that is all about people.
What are the results so far?
Since its inception, ALC University has nearly tripled the amount of technician training hours, increased the efficiency of treatments provided, reduced technician turnover, and created uniformity among remote facilities. The process has reduced per employee training costs by 50 percent of the 2007-2008 levels and reduced travel costs by 75 percent. Each trainee is receiving two and half times as much learning (as measured by hours of learning activities completed). Prior to the implementation of ALC University, training started at 15 hours. Now, technicians receive more than 40 hours of training. In addition, the efficacy of treatments has improved due to new protocols, higher settings, and better learning in the medical services arena. ALC's training culture also shifted from "training" to "learning."
Moreover, with only word of mouth promotion of the LMS and ALC University, from February through July 15, 2009, ALC employees registered for 9,357 courses with an impressive completion rate to date of 91 percent.
"The notable results we have seen to date lend strong support to reinforcing learning initiatives as integral parts of both the training and ongoing employee development process," says Rich Morgan, founder of American Laser Centers.
Growth! In the coming months, the learning and performance strategy calls for increased levels of competency, individual learning plans, development plans driven by the performance review process, career paths, continuing education units (CEUs), and better job structures. And, if all goes according to plan, ALC will become an Employer of Choice [The Employer of Choice certification mark is an earned designation of excellence of Employer of Choice, Inc.].
Ted Villella is learning and performance leader for American Laser Centers.